Advertisement

Plant Cited for Worker Safety Violations : Rockwell: Agency says infractions may have contributed to a fatal blast at company’s Santa Susana test site.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A state agency on Friday cited Rockwell International for four serious violations of worker safety rules that may have contributed to an explosion that killed two workers at the company’s rocket engine test site near Simi Valley last July.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health cited Rockwell’s Rocketdyne division for four “willful-serious” workplace safety violations, the most severe sanction issued by the agency. Each violation carries a penalty of $50,000.

The agency levied an additional fine of $2,500 against Rocketdyne for failing to tell the state in advance of the work that led to the accident at the company’s Santa Susana Field Laboratory.

“‘When you have four willful-serious citations, that’s a serious violation,” said John Duncan, deputy director of communications for Cal-OSHA. “A company with this sort of expertise should not have been acting in this manner.”

Advertisement

On July 26, Rocketdyne employees were preparing for a test burn of rocket fuel ingredients when a powerful chemical explosion occurred, killing two engineers and seriously injuring a third worker.

“Although it is impossible to make a definite determination of the specific cause of the explosion, our inspectors concluded that certain mandates and precautions were not taken which could have contributed to the accident,” Duncan said.

The four serious citations were issued for:

* Failing to provide distance or barrier separations between work stations to prevent explosives in one station from being set off by materials in another.

Advertisement

* Failing to implement an injury-and-illness education program with specific training on new hazards involving explosives, and failure to inspect new hazards.

* Processing and blending of static-sensitive explosives in 17% humidity when regulations call for humidity conditions above 20%.

* Testing potentially explosive rocket fuel ingredients next to a site where scrap had been burned without waiting the required 48 hours to make sure the fire was completely out.

Also, investigators found that Rocketdyne violated state regulations by failing to tell Cal-OSHA where and when the explosives were being made.

Advertisement

In a letter sent to Rocketdyne employees Friday, Rocketdyne President Paul B. Smith informed workers of the citations and said the company has not yet decided whether to appeal the state findings within the allotted 15-day period.

“I believe that all accidents are preventable,” Smith wrote. “We remain committed to seeing that all our operations are safe. To make that goal a reality, we all share a strict responsibility to health and safety in the workplace.”

Rocketdyne spokesman Paul Sewell said Friday the type of fuel tests that led to the explosion are no longer done at the Santa Susana facility.

Rocketdyne has received six other workplace citations since 1990, all for minor health and safety violations, including one $300 fine for failing to keep a proper log of injury accidents.

Advertisement

July’s fatalities were not the first at Santa Susana. Six workers were killed in various accidents at the facility in the early 1960s, a Rocketdyne spokesman said.

The Santa Susana Field Laboratory, which employs 742 workers, is a renowned rocket engine test site for the Air Force and NASA. The facility has been in operation since 1947, when it was opened by Rocketdyne’s predecessor, North American Aviation.

Rockwell has tested engines for nearly every U.S. rocket program, including the space shuttle and first manned flight to the moon. Current work includes testing of Atlas and Delta rocket engines that propel satellites into space, and the development of hardware for NASA’s space-station project.


Advertisement
Advertisement